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Former Aide to Guru Says She’s Willing to Return

October 22, 1985

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ The former personal secretary to Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh says she’s willing to return to Oregon to reaffirm her claims of innocence to allegations that include arson, wiretapping and attempted murder.

Ma Anand Sheela, who left the guru’s commune city Sept. 14 with several other former sect leaders, told Portland television station KGW on Moday that it would not be necessary to extradite her from West Germany if charges are filed against her.

″They don’t have to extradite, they just have to call,″ she said.

The native of India denied any knowledge of the accusations made against her by Rajneesh in recent weeks. A state grand jury began meeting last week in The Dalles to investigate the allegations.

Speaking from a hotel in West Germany, Sheela said investigators in the case have not tried to contact her.

The sect’s corporate finances were in good shape when she left, Sheela said, but are now in ″a very big financial mess.″ She said her sources told her 500 people have dropped out of the guru’s flock since she left, and predicted more of Rajneesh’s followers would leave the him.

She is no longer a Rajneeshee, but she said she still calls herself Ma Anand Sheela because it’s her legal name.

In a related development, in Hood River, a Circuit Court jury ruled that Sheela is liable for about $625,000 in damages in an outrageous conduct lawsuit.

The lawsuit stemmed from statements Sheela made to Marcia Wichelmann of the Antelope area during a 1983 Antelope School Board meeting.

The jury returned its verdict in Ms. Wichelmann’s favor late Friday night. Ms. Wichelmann had sought $3 million in general damages.

During the school board meeting, Sheela accused Ms. Wichelmann of being unfaithful to her late husband, Gene Wichelmann, who had died in a firearms accident six weeks before the meeting.

Defense attorneys in the case conceded that Sheela’s statements were made without any reasonable basis of truth and constituted outrageous conduct, but said the request for $3 million was ″ludicrous.″ Ms. Wichelmann’s lawyers said she suffered extreme emotional distress as a result of Sheela’s remarks which were broadcast on television and widely reported.

The town then known as Antelope has since been renamed City of Rajneesh.

If the damages cannot be recovered from Sheela, a second trial will determine corporate responsibility.

Meanwhile, the FBI says police sources claim that a large metal box containing automatic weapons and a piece of ″equipment″ is buried in the muck of Patanjali Lake at Rajneeshpuram and they have hired divers to find it.

Divers began the search Monday for the box, believed to have been dumped into the lake shortly before the Sept. 14 departure of Sheela and several other top Rajneeshee officials.

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